Humphrey St. Francis football scored the final 30 points of the game Tuesday and advanced to the semifinals for the sixth time in seven years with a 54-36 victory at Falls City Sacred Heart.
The Flyers overcame a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter and move on to host Johnson-Brock on Monday - 72-32 winners over Bloomfield. The other half of the bracket includes 1-seed Mullen (11-0) against 11-seed Lawrence-Nelson (8-3).
The winners face off in the Class D-2 state championship on Nov. 19 in Lincoln at Memorial Stadium.
"They're really good and really well-coached. We have some experience playing them, so there's some familiarity," coach Eric Kessler said. "It was a really good football game, and we're fortunate to come out on top."
St. Francis led 24-14 late in the second quarter in what was a back-and-forth first half. Sacred Heart cut it to 24-22 just before the teams left the field for the halftime break.
The Irish then took their first lead on a 1-yard run from quarterback Drew Bippes. The 2-point conversion failed and Sacred Heart led 28-24 with 7:24 left in the third quarter.
Bippes followed up that scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Witt. The conversion was successful this time, and Sacred Heart had suddenly scored 20 points in a row and led 36-24 lead with 3:17 remaining in the third.
St. Francis and dynamic running back Tyler Wemhoff answered right away with a 74-yard kickoff return for a touchdown - his second on the night. Quarterback Trevor Pfeifer connected with Landon Kosch on the conversion and made it a 36-32 game with 3:07 left in the third.
"We were certainly in a key point in the game. We kind of had control in the first half, and they took it early in the second half. Being down two scores to those guys is difficult," Kessler said. "But we've had this happen a time or two this year where we needed someone to step up and make a play.
"Tyler had a really nice return but there were some really good blocks on that as well. After that touchdown, it felt like the momentum switched a little bit and we got our confidence back."
The Flyers took the lead for good when Pfeifer found Jarret Weidner on a 51-yard touchdown pass. Weidner was pushed out at the one but reached out and hit the pylon before landing for the score.
Another 2-point conversion made it 40-36. Pfeifer's 13-yard run and another 2-point catch by Kosch increased the margin to 48-36 with 6:58 to go in the game.
The defense forced a turnover on downs and the offense capitalized on the short field with Weidner's 2-yard run for the final nail in the Sacred Heart coffin.
"I think maybe the confidence helped us make those plays. We kind of got a little more bounce in our step," Kessler said. "We were a little tight in the first half for whatever reason. We weren't flying to the football and doing some of the things we've done all year.
"After that kickoff we had some renewed energy. We had a sack, got the ball back, Jaret got the touchdown down the sideline to get us the lead and it felt like it was our game at that point."
Pfeifer finished 6 of 13 through the air with 156 yards while Wemhoff was right at his average of 114 yards on 15 carries. He had a long of 57 on a touchdown run.
Weidner collected 124 receiving yards.
Bippes hit on 27 of 40 passes for Sacred Heart for 281 yards and two touchdowns.
The game was the fifth time the two teams have met in the playoffs since 2012. St. Francis has won three of those.
Sacred Heart won last year in a 34-30 final and 50-31 also in the quarterfinals in 2013.
Flyer wins included a 38-13 semifinal victory in 2012 and a 46-14 quarterfinal one in 2015.
"This is a different animal coming up. Johnson-Brock beat Falls City Sacred Heart, and they have tremendous, tremendous players," Kessler said. "We're going to prepare like we always do. We kind of have a six-day week routine between games. We'll just kind of do that. We know the stakes are higher. We have probably the best team in the state coming to our place. We'll have to play our best football.
"Our kids know how to prepare, and we're playing well. We're excited for the challenge."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com